It’s an issue as old as Eden Hazard’s tenure at Chelsea, which means it’s an issue that’s deep into its sixth season. It came bubbling back up on Monday as Eden talked to the media ahead of Tuesday’s friendly between Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
The issue? For once, it’s not the Real Madrid rumors. Instead it’s that other old nugget: what will it take for Eden Hazard to be as good as Messi and Ronaldo? Plus the essential subset of that question: why doesn’t he score more goals?
The key word in that latter question is ‘more’, as Eden does actually score a lot of goals. He has 15 so far this season and is Chelsea’s leading goal taker. He also has 11 assists (which is kind of the problem, if you will, but we’re getting to that.) He finished last season at 17 and 7, behind only Diego Costa. He did have that nightmare season in 2015-16, when he only bagged 6, but still had 8 assists. The year before that, he had a very tidy 19 goals and 13 assists.
Aside from the nightmare year, those are excellent numbers. Well, excellent if you’re not being compared to Messi and Ronaldo, that is. Clearly, they are on another level. Others have touched similar levels, but no one has done it as consistently as those two have over the past decade.
So is the comparison, the expectation, unfair? People look at Hazard’s raw ability on the ball, his trickery, his ability to make would-be tacklers look oafish and leave them stumbling in his wake, and they say he has more in his bag. If he wants it.
Eden himself seems to be ambivalent about it. Here’s what he said in the press conference before Barca came calling in the Champions League.
”It’s good to be compared with the greatest ever, Messi and Ronaldo.
”But I am different, completely different. We play in a different league. I want to do my job. I try to reach their level because they are the best.
”So, every season I try to do my best. If you want to be one of the best, you need to play well in the big games. (The match on Tuesday night is) a big game, so let’s go for it.”
At a minimum, then, he aspires to their level.
Or does he?
Fast-forward to Monday, with the painful loss to Messi and Barca in the rear-view mirror. (He’s not using the royal “we” here; he’s talking about all players of his size and speed.)
“We cannot be compared to Messi. It’s impossible. We’re small and we’re quick, but he scores in all the matches.”
-Eden Hazard; source: Goal
And there’s the rub. Messi scores in all matches. Eden scores an awful lot, but nothing like Messi or Ronaldo.
The criticism — the advice? — for him is that he could if only he wanted to. People point to his assist numbers and his demeanor on the pitch and say he’s just not selfish enough, that he’s too willing to pass rather than shoot, take another dribble rather than shoot. That despite his sterling numbers and his huge talent, he just isn’t the kind of greedy, insatiable goal hound who racks up other-worldly totals. (All that despite Hazard collecting more goals than assists throughout his Chelsea career, unlike at Lille.)
But Eden Hazard is 27 years old. In all likelihood, he is the player he’s going to be. This is him. And if he’s too easy-going, too content to play pretty football and enjoy his life — if all of those things are true — then maybe that actually helps Chelsea. Maybe it means he’s settled, happy and content to raise his children around a club he seems to love. Maybe it means he doesn’t hunger for Real Madrid or PSG or some other opportunity.
Is it really so hard to live with 15-20 goals per season, half that number in assists, and the joy of watching him play? And, of course, winning the Premier League every other campaign? We say, no.
We also say, make it 16 against Tottenham, Eden.